The world is under a technological revolution. The wireless
mobile technology - the wireless Internet, cellular phones, PDAs,
digital cameras, and related devices will forever change the way we
think of personal communication.
I just wrote that. The same paragraph could have been written by any
technologically aware journalist, or a researcher explaining the
affairs of the world to the masses. I'm not disputing it - that is
undoubtedly true. The new technology is here to stay, and it will make
But there's always something in it that deeply disturbs me. The
technologies are developed all the time, but no one really seems to
know how to use them. The marketers and media seem to talk a
lot of how the things are going to make everything better, yet the
engineers are trying to iron out the warts from the edges and show
somewhat less glorious products to the masses.
I'm not saying the new technology is useless - in fact, things
are rather fine. Still, some people develop existing technology
positive way, but forget that existing technology would do
the same thing, often better.
I'm particularly amazed by the sudden need for GPRS/UMTS networks
in Finland. According to the people who are pushing these things and
favor the abandoning the slower GSM network that's used today, it will
allow all sorts of cool things... broadband Internet connections in
your pocket! Streaming digital video! Streaming music! Does that make
And Palm is switching from Motorola Dragonball processor series to
ARM! Time to kiss goodbye to my slow 16MHz processor, two-color
display and 2 megs of RAM and get several hundred megahertz and full
color display with hundreds of megabytes of memory! Right?
Let's see what I use my mobile phone for. It's a Nokia 9110i, which is
a cross between PDA and a phone. I can call people with it. (Yes,
sometimes people forget that this is what they're made to do.) I can
browse the web with it - admittedly a bit slowly. I can send E-mail
with it (and read too, but see below). I send SMS messages to people I
know, and SMSing and E-mailing is easy because the phone has a real
keyboard and a half-VGA display.
But when I turn on the "Terminal emulator" thing, I can call to
university's shell box, and read my mail. I can ssh to my own
home computer. I can IRC. I can download files. I can browse web
*really* fast because the phone only acts as a dumb terminal - using a
9600 bps link for terminals is fast enough for most uses.
Do I need a broadband connection for a dumb client? I can manage just
fine without one.
And what about web browsing? Synchronizing interesting sites that I
really would like to read when on the move to my AvantGo takes a
minute or two over the same slow link. I don't need to read
every site in existence when I'm travelling. And since I
don't exactly want to watch the small, jerky video things on desktop
computers, what makes the designing people think that watching the
same on small cellphone display would make them any more attractive?
What about the Palm thing? I'm happy with my Palm m100. It reminds me
of my lectures and is very nice to keep notes with. Just as I can do
perfectly productive word processing with my 1MHz Commodore 64, I can
keep perfectly good notes and calendar things with a 16MHz Palm.
I know some people who have a "powerful" PDA. When I've asked them
what good a big processor can bring to PDA use, they think for many
moments, finally replying "Oh, you can listen to MP3s. That's
important!" But I have no use for that! I have a portable player that
can store up to 80 minutes of uncompressed, high-quality
digital audio - and the media is rather cheap these days, too, and
available everywhere. No ripping and encoding phase required!
Oh, but what about "mobile gaming"? Surely I want to use my cellphone
to play those interesting WAP games, those highly-thought-of, complex
SMS games, those high-brow SMS TV chat shows, and things like that?
No, not really... What about PDAs? Sorry, no. Until this year, I used
a Gameboy - and this year, I bought a Gameboy Advance. And by simple
comparison, I can say that the games available for Gameboy in early
1990s had vastly higher quality than the modern "mobile games" for
SMS/WAP services - and GBA's games are just as good as the games for
modern "super PDAs", often even better.
Last year, when I got a new computer, I also got a TV tuner card to do
video captures. The Windows software installer reminded that I could
get free information with the included software. What
software? A Teletext viewer, of course! Do modern computer users,
spoiled with Internet, really need a reminder that their TV can offer
free (plus license fees, if any) high-resolution video
picture that does not jerk or pixelate horribly or get cut
off in the middle? Why am I reminded of the nerds in Donald Duck
magazine: "A Pencil! These things still exist afterall! How do I power
these on? Hey, is that black thing a solar cell?"
Indeed, the question is, why should we hurry to develop and use new
things, when we do not even master the old ones yet? Why are the new
technologies developed to needlessly replace the old ones?
This is not a "revolution". This is a retelling of the old tale with
In the beginning was the Word. And these days, the Word was delivered
to you as ones and zeros... with pop-under ads and compression artifacts.